If you have been out of work for 10 years, you do not have a valid claim to unemployment benefits. In fact, an absence of employment income for 1 1/2 years would leave you ineligible to begin receiving unemployment benefits. The reason is the formula all states use to calculate your eligibility for benefits. The formula varies slightly from one state to the next, but in all cases, you must have earned at least a minimal amount of wages from recent employment.
Your state unemployment agency considers your earnings during a recent period leading up to your initial claim for unemployment benefits. In most cases, the specific period — known as the base period — is the first four of the five most recently completed calendar quarters before filing your claim. Because a calendar quarter is three months, the period begins 15 to 18 months before your claim. If you do not have any wages during that time, you will not qualify for unemployment benefits. Examples of the minimum earnings you need in your base period are $1,125 in California, $3,400 in Florida and $2,400 in New York.
States evaluate your "workforce attachment" when determining your eligibility for unemployment benefits, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Employers fund state unemployment programs through federal and state payroll taxes. If you have been out of work for 10 years, no employer has been paying taxes to fund benefits on your behalf during that time. States also want to reserve unemployment benefits for workers who are "between jobs," rather than those who might need a form of welfare after being out of work for an extended period.
You can qualify for unemployment benefits by earning a relatively small amount of wages in a brief time. When considering your base-period earnings, many states require you to have earned wages in only two quarters. If you can earn the required minimum during the span of two quarters — six months — you subsequently would be eligible for unemployment benefits even if you did not work for 10 years before that time. However, you usually are eligible for benefits only if you lose your job through no fault of your own. Quitting or receiving a termination for misconduct would disqualify you in most cases.
Depending on your household's overall income, you could qualify for public aid such as food stamps, medical assistance and welfare benefits if you have been out of work for a while. Unlike unemployment benefits, eligibility for these programs depends on your income and financial resources rather than your previous earnings. However, in the case of food stamps and welfare benefits, your eligibility will be limited unless you either find work or enroll in an approved work-training program and complete the requirements.